DigiTech iStomp Review

AG 236 August 2012 Cover

by Gino Robair

The ubiquity of Apple’s mobile iOS platform (iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch) has resulted in a wealth of handy apps for the guitarist—tuners, metronomes, recorders, lesson material, and amp and effects emulations—all of which can be hosted in a single device. While the audio quality of the virtual amps and effects currently on the market is generally high, plugging your instrument directly into an Apple device onstage or at a jam session is usually impractical.

DigiTech’s new iStomp solves this problem by allowing you to copy effects, including many that are of interest to acoustic players, from your iOS device to a rugged stomp-box style floor pedal. DigiTech is not the only hardware manufacturer to come up with a device that hosts sounds from iOS devices, but the iStomp is the most versatile and gig-friendly. Not only can it run one of over two dozen high-quality effects, it can be reconfigured in less than a minute, and once an effect is downloaded, it works without being plugged into the iOS unit.

While any of the iStomp’s effects can be used with an acoustic-electric guitar, some categories (reverb, delay, and chorus) are more appropriate for acoustic instruments than others (fuzz and distortion). Most of the effects are priced under $10 each, allowing you to easily acquire an expansive collection of processors that will be available whenever you need them. Having access to so many effects is especially handy while recording, when you’re looking for new ways to enhance the mood of a song.

One on the Floor

At roughly three inches wide by five inches long and weighing in at 0.6 pounds, the iStomp is about average size for a single-button pedal. A pair of unbalanced ¼-inch inputs and outputs make the pedal suitably flexible for hosting mono and stereo effects (not all effects are stereo, but many of the reverbs, choruses, and delays are). A raised area in the middle of the unit protects the knobs and is where you attach the name of the effect that is loaded into the pedal. DigiTech includes 12 reusable, adhesive labels, nine of which have preprinted names and knob assignments.

The iStomp comes with a nine-volt power adaptor (batteries are not an option) and a DigiTech Smart Cable, which has a 30-pin iOS-device connector on one end and an eight-pin plug at the other end that attaches to the pedal. The pedal itself has a rubberized bottom so it won’t slip on a tabletop or floor when you’re working with it.

Linked with iTunes

To manage the iStomp’s effects, you must download the free Stomp Shop app from the iTunes store to your iOS device. The app organizes the effects you’ve purchased under the My Pedals tab and lists the available pedals under Shop. The iStomp comes with two free effects, one of which—Redline Overdrive—is already loaded into the pedal, so you can start playing right away. The other free effect, Total Recall Delay, is bundled within Stomp Shop.

Downloading new effects to the iStomp is remarkably easy. Once you power up the pedal and connect your iOS device, simply launch Stomp Shop, choose the effect you want, and hit Load. It takes 30 seconds to load the effect, and then you’re ready to play. Stomp Shop even lets you download and play through a five-minute demo of different effects to determine whether you want to buy them or not. If you want to hear how an effect sounds without downloading it, call it up in Stomp Shop and hit Play to hear a short audio excerpt.

When you’re ready to purchase a new effect, hit the price-tag icon, confirm that you want to buy it, and in a few moments the effect is ready to use. Prices for effects range from $0.99 to $12.99, although it’s not immediately clear why some effects are more expensive than others. I downloaded effects at every price point and was pleased with the sound of all of them. According to DigiTech’s Billy Clements, the company reworked the effects algorithms from its hardware products to take full advantage of the DSP chip in iStomp, and it shows in the exceptional sound quality.

Reverb, Delay, Chorus, and More

At the time of this writing, there are six delay/reverb effects available—Spring Tank, DM Delay, Vintage Tape Delay, Total Recall Delay, 240 Plate, and Continuum Reverb—all of which sound fantastic on an acoustic guitar. Mix them in subtly and any of them will fill out the timbre of an amplified acoustic without making it sound like you’re playing in an artificial room. The 240 Plate and Continuum reverbs have controls for decay, predelay, high frequency response, and effect level, and the reverb tails continue after you bypass the effect. Continuum Reverb’s EQ control was particularly nice, allowing me to dial in a warm spaciousness that was great for strummed parts. The 240 Plate is a fairly realistic plate-reverb effect that I enjoyed using with arpeggiated patterns played with a pick or fingers.

Vintage Tape Delay emulates the saturation sounds of tape very well and was very satisfying to use. The Total Recall delay has a range of ten milliseconds to one second and offers a repeat-hold function that creates an endless loop when you turn the Repeat control fully clockwise. The Total Recall and Vintage Tape delay effects also have tap-tempo capabilities, where the Time control switches between three preset subdivisions of the tempo: quarter notes, double time (eighth notes), and dotted eighths.

Chorus/modulation is another effect category acoustic players should explore. Of the seven available effects, of particular note is CE Chorus, which resembles a familiar Boss effect, and the dual-voiced Blue Pearl Chorus, which offers sine and triangle wave modulation.

Two other effects that surprised me as useful with my acoustic-electric were Compressor, which helped even out an active strumming part I was recording, and Octaver, which I used to fatten up single-line parts. I also enjoyed recording the acoustics through the overdrive effects, though they sounded much better—stellar, in fact—on electric guitar. DigiTech promises to release more effects in the coming months, and it will be interesting to see which of them will be geared to acoustic guitarists.

A New Set of Changes

The only downside to gigging with the iStomp is that it holds just one effect at a time. While it’s certainly possible to change effects between songs, thanks to the short download time, it’s more likely you would do so during a break between sets. Guitarists who want to use more than one effect at a time—and they sound good enough that you will probably consider this—will have to purchase additional iStomps. Fortunately, they’re priced competitively with other multi-effects units.

But whether it’s used onstage or in the studio, I have no qualms about the iStomp when it comes to its operation or sound quality. Not only is it more satisfying to play through a robust stompbox than an iDevice, these inexpensive effects are sonically on a par with dedicated pedals. With so many effects available at the touch of a button, the iStomp is both fun and inspiring. Who wouldn’t want a product that offers that?

SPECS: Stompbox-style pedal that hosts effects loaded from an Apple iOS device. Works with iPads, iPod Touch (second through fourth generation), and iPhones (3G, 3GS, 4, 4S) running iOS 4.0 or higher. Mono or stereo operation. Two 1/4-inch inputs. Two 1/4-inch outputs. Four effect-specific knobs. Tap-tempo capabilities. Nine-volt DC power supply included. Customizable LED color. 0.6 lb. Made in USA.

PRICE: $229.95 list/$149.95 street.

MAKER: DigiTech: (801) 566-8800;digitech.com.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar August 2012

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